Foraging behaviour of harvesting ants determines seed removal and dispersal

X. Arnan, J. Retana, A. Rodrigo, X. Cerdá

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Harvesting ants can affect the regeneration of plants through at least two different processes: seed removal and seed dispersal. We analyse the role of different foraging strategies of ants on patterns of seed removal and dispersal by three Messor species with considerable differences in their foraging systems. Messor capitatus workers rarely leave the nest in well-formed columns, while the other two species form foraging trails, with M. bouvieri forming temporary trails and M. barbarus foraging on a stable system of permanent foraging trails. Overall seed intake of M. capitatus colonies is considerably less than that of the two group-foraging species. There are also differences in the size of seeds collected: M. barbarus and M. capitatus harvest similar amounts of large and small seeds, while M. bouvieri harvests small seeds more intensely than large ones, due to the smaller size of the worker caste. The three Messor species differ in the percent of seed dropping of the different seed type and in the seed dispersal distance. Moreover, M. bouvieri and M. capitatus redistributed dropped seeds preferentially in bare soil and low sparse vegetation habitats, while M. barbarus redistributed seeds mainly in the high vegetation habitat. These results show that the foraging systems of these harvesting ants determine different patterns of seed removal and dispersal and, thus, affect the abundance and redistribution of seeds in the area. © 2010 International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-430
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2010


  • Foraging behaviour
  • Foraging trail
  • Harvester ant
  • Seed dispersal
  • Seed removal


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